The northern cardinal is one of the most familiar birds for residents of New York City, especially those who live near Central Park. They are characterized by their bright red color and distinctive chirp.
The cardinals start appearing in spring, just as the last trace of winter snow is melting away. What a joy to watch them flit from budding tree to budding tree. They build their nests high above the ground where the cats and other predators can't reach them. Nonetheless, tragedy can strike these most beautiful creatures.
In an Upper East Side neighborhood, known as Carnegie Hill, a family of cardinals lives behind several townhouses and buildings. This doughnut hole, as it is called, is made up of a dozen backyards protected by a wall of buildings. Each yard, separated by wooden fences, has a garden while some have trees. This is an ideal home for any bird, which could spend a lifetime in these friendly confines.
But this Garden of Eden can be treacherous as well. High winds, associated with thunderstorms and heavy rain, can shake the smallest and least experienced bird from its perch. And so it did this past week. A baby redbird fell to the ground and landed at the base of our building, on a glass atrium.
Its parents spent hours frantically looking for their child. Their chirping was loud and desperate. Drawn by the noise, our dogs peered out of the window and watched with fascination as the birds flew from tree to railing, yelping loudly while looking everywhere for their baby. Finally, they spotted it on the atrium and raced to its rescue.
As the mother approached her child, she realized that she could do nothing but check on its condition. The baby was too young to fly. As the father jumped above from branch to branch, the mother continued to call to her baby. As the parents flew above hours passed, but they had no way to save their child. It was so painful to watch.
I considered saving the chick, but I had no easy solution. If I touched it I thought the parents might reject the child. If I moved it to the backyard, it would still be unable to fly, and it would be in more danger from predators.
Later, as I worked out at the gym, I decided to capture the chick and put it in a large plastic container with food and water. But by the time I returned the chick was gone. I went outside and searched the area for any sign of the little bird. I could not find it. Maybe a cat or hawk grabbed the chick. But the parents continued to circle the area, landing on the top of the fence and looking below.
As darkness fell, a major thunderstorm rolled through the area. The storm cell settled over the city inflicting lightening, loud thunder and heavy rain. I knew that had the chick survived the day it would not survive Mother Nature's wrath.
The next morning I went out into the backyard to clear the debris. The parents continued to chirp and fly around the atrium area. I climbed over the barrier and swept the dead branches from the top of the glass. Suddenly, I saw the dead chick trapped in between some wire mesh and the wood walkway. Fate had dealt its blow.
Sadly I removed the bird's body. But the parents continued to look for their child until darkness fell again on the backyards of Carnegie Hill. They will never know their child's fate. Will they return?